When Freezes Threaten Crops, State, Statewide Florida Automated Weather network Helps Growers Avoid losses

By:
Chuck Woods (352) 392-0400

Source(s):
Larry Treadaway lst@ufl.edu, (352) 392-0900
John Jackson JLJackson@mail.ifas.ufl.edu, (352) 343-4101
Jim Jones JWJones@ifas.ufl.edu, (352) 392-1864

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — When freezes threaten crops, growers rely on the Florida Automated Weather Network for accurate weather data to protect their crops. In addition to delivering weather data 24 hours daily, the University of Florida network helps farmers improve their irrigation efficiency and provides reliable climate predictions months in advance.

“Weather is still the most important input in agriculture, and the Florida Automated Weather Network – also known as FAWN – keeps a close watch on changing weather conditions around the state with 33 high-tech stations linked to our computers in Gainesville,” said Larry Treadaway, director of the network.

“The statewide network, which provides weather data via the Internet and a toll-free phone service, is important because regular weather forecasts for cities may be misleading to farmers located in cooler rural areas,” he said. “Heat trapped in concrete and asphalt can make cities 10 degrees warmer than farms in rural areas. When cold weather moves through the state, the difference can be devastating to citrus, vegetables and other cold-sensitive crops.”

He said the weather network saves growers more than $38 million annually.

Started by UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences in 1998 after the National Weather Service discontinued special forecasts for agriculture, the network is now a widely used management tool for thousands of growers around the state, Treadaway said.

Nick Faryna, owner of Faryna Grove Care and Harvesting in Umatilla, said he uses the network to keep track of cold weather. “It is an extremely valuable asset to those who protect our crops from freezing temperatures,” he said.

Phil Cross, senior project manager of WaterConserv II near Orlando that distributes reclaimed waste water from the metro area over more than 4,000 acres of citrus and other crops, said FAWN is an important tool for agricultural interests throughout the state.

“The information is very valuable for freeze protection, and data from the network enables growers to shut off irrigation systems after a freeze at the earliest possible time, thereby saving thousands or even millions of gallons of water,” he said.

Anita Simpson, owner of Simpson Groves in Mt. Dora, said, “FAWN is an important part of our cold-protection plan – we use the network constantly during freeze situations, which saves thousands of dollars in irrigation costs.”

Each solar-powered station in the FAWN network collects weather data and transmits it to a computer in Gainesville every 15 minutes. The stations measure air temperatures at two, six and 30 feet above ground, soil temperature, wind speed and direction, rainfall, relative humidity, barometric pressure, leaf wetness and solar radiation. Real-time weather data from the network is available at 352-846-3100 or 866-754-5732 and at the FAWN Web site: http://fawn.ifas.ufl.edu

Treadaway said growers are looking at FAWN as a source of reliable information not only for cold protection, but also for weather-driven computer models in pest control, irrigation scheduling, fertilizer rates and other management programs.

“It’s all part of the growing trend toward precision agriculture,” he said.

John Jackson, a UF Lake County extension agent in Tavares, Fla., who works with Treadaway on the project, said FAWN provides growers with critical information on when it’s safe to turn off their irrigation systems used for freeze protection.

“Some crops such as ferns and strawberries utilize relatively large amounts of water to protect an entire crop, while citrus uses much smaller application rates per acre to protect the tree trunk and lower limbs,” he said. “When growers use water, they must determine the critical temperatures for crops and turn irrigation systems on and off to keep from reaching damaging levels while minimizing water use at the same time.”

The planned integration of FAWN with the AgClimate climate forecasting system during the next two years will provide producers with additional management tools, said Jim Jones, distinguished professor in UF’s agricultural and biological engineering department.

An expert in computer modeling climate effects on cropping systems, Jones said AgClimate is operated by the Southeast Climate Consortium, which includes UF, Florida State University, University of Miami, University of Georgia, Auburn University and University of Alabama in Huntsville. Information available on AgClimate includes climate forecasts combined with risk management tools and information for selected crops, forestry, pasture and livestock. For more information, visit the AgClimate Web site: http://www.AgClimate.org.

Current FAWN monitoring stations include Alachua in Alachua County, Apopka in Orange County, Arcadia in DeSoto County, Avalon in Orange County, Balm in Hillsborough County, Belle Glade in Palm Beach County, Bronson in Levy County, Brooksville in Hernando County, Carrabelle in Franklin County, Citra in Marion County, Dover in Hillsborough County, Fort Lauderdale in Broward County, Fort Pierce in St. Lucie County, Frostproof in Polk County, Hastings in St. Johns County, Homestead in Miami- Dade County, Immokalee in Collier County, Jay in Santa Rosa County, Lake Alfred in Polk County, Kenansville in Osceola County, Marianna in Jackson County, MacClenny in Baker County, Live Oak in Suwannee County, Monticello in Jefferson County, Oklawaha in Marion County, Okahumpka in Lake County, Ona in Hardee County, Palmdale in Glades County, Pierson in Volusia County, Putnam Hall in Putnam County, Sebring in Highlands County, Quincy in Gadsden County, and Umatilla in Lake County.

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Posted: January 6, 2006


Category: UF/IFAS



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